Sunday, August 16, 2015

ADSS 1.87 Osborne to Maglione: UK position on Danzig

ADSS 1.87 D’Arcy Osborne, UK Minister, to Luigi Maglione, Sec State

Reference: AES 4470/39; (DBFP Series 3, Volume 6, n262, pp290-92).

Location and date: Rome, 09.07.1939

Summary statement: UK position on Danzig.

Language: English


I received yesterday a telegram from Lord Halifax instructing me to pass the enclosed communication to you.  I have been instructed at the same time to explain to your Eminence that in consideration of the endeavours of the Holy Father in the interest of peace – endeavours which are deeply appreciated by the British Government and which the Government is convinced will continue – Lord Halifax wishes in particular that the Holy Father as well as your Eminence be directly informed of the London point of view in the Danzig problem.  At the same time I must explicitly point out to your Eminence that this communication is purely informative and is not intended in any way to push the Holy Father to take any particular action.


As it seems that Danzig constitutes the central point of danger and insecurity in Europe I should like the Pope to be placed in possession of the views of His Majesty’s Government.

Up till the end of March Germany seems to have felt that while the position of Danzig might ultimately require revision, the question was neither urgent nor likely to lead to a serious dispute.  It was only in March, when the German Government put forward an offer in the form of certain desiderata, accompanied by a Press campaign, that the Polish Government realised that they might be faced with a dictated settlement, which they would be obliged to accept with consequences which they could not foresee.  They had before them the precedent of the conquest of Austria and Czechoslovakia and the seizure of the Port of Memel.  They accordingly rejected the German offer and resorted to measures of mobilisation.  These measures were put into force on March 3 and a reply was sent to Berlin on March 26.

It has been freely stated in Germany that it was His Majesty’s Government’s guarantee, which encouraged the Polish Government to adopt an unconciliatory attitude.  But the British guarantee was not given until March 31.  By march 26 no mention of it had been made to the Polish Government.

Meanwhile there is no doubt that ominous preparations are being made at Danzig.   Men and arms are entering the City from Germany and the fact that the men are ostensibly “tourists” does not disguise their military character.  It is reported that all this activity is the prelude to a declaration by the Danzig authorities of their decision to join the Reich and it is said that this declaration will be accompanied by a display of military force backed by assurances of military assistance from the German Government if Poland should interfere.  The design is evidently to represent Poland and her friends as aggressors should they intervene to restore the situation.  But this manoeuvre will not have effect … (This part of the telegram is not clear; the text will be sent later) (1) … result would be a European war since this country is absolutely united in its determination to carry out its pledges to Poland and the position is the same in France.

The attitude of His Majesty’s Government is dictated by the following considerations: the population of Danzig is predominantly German and the administration of Danzig is not in German hands.  Any claims therefore that it should be transferred to Germany cannot be based on grounds that Germans there are subject to oppression. 

There are two facts that have to be recognised:  firstly, that Germans in Danzig depend for their prosperity on Polish trade and secondly that Poland’s economic existence depends on her free access to the sea, which is commanded by Danzig.  The present regime in Danzig, though it may not be perfect, is so framed as to take account of these considerations.

Objection to transfer of Danzig arises firstly from the idea that transfer would be imposed by force or threat of force instead of by discussion,.  Secondly it arises from the fact that Poland believes the desire of the German Government to effect transfer is prompted, not by sentiment, but by their intention to use it as a weapon pointed at the heart of Poland.  Apart form their fears that their economic life would be gravely prejudiced, the Poles are convinced that, with the example of Czechoslovakia before the, if Danzig becomes part of the Reich it would be transformed into a military base and used for the purpose of ultimately dismembering their country and destroying its independence.

It is clear, in atmosphere engendered by German seizure of Prague and Memel and by present military preparations in Danzig, that there is no prospect at present of negotiations leading to a solution acceptable to both parties.  If war is to be averted the only course is for the two Governments to agree to shelve the Danzig question until the atmosphere cools.  If they will do this it ought subsequently to be possible, provided that the German Government have no ulterior aggressive designs and are able to show that Polish suspicions are without foundation, four both Governments to enter upon discussions and to find a peaceful solution of their differences.

Appendix:  D’Arcy Osborne to Luigi Maglione.

Rome, 10.7.1939

Here follow the text of a defective part of the communication I had the honour of sending your Eminence yesterday:

“But this manoeuvre will not have the effect of blinding Great Britain and France to realities and it is certain that the result would be a European war since this country is absolutely united in its determination to carry out its pledges to Poland, and the position is the same in France.


(1) This document is supplement by Osborne’s despatch of 10.07.1939.  See DBFP, Series 3, Volume 6, n287, pp316-17.  Osborne added the missing part in the Appendix that follows the text.

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